It looks like Google is finally going to sell an Android TV dongle to the masses. XDA Developers has leaked promotional images of a device named “Sabrina.” The device looks like a slightly larger Chromecast with a remote, and it runs Android TV.
The unit is very much in the shape of an Amazon Fire Stick or Roku Stick – it’s a small HDMI stick that gives you all the benefits of a set-box in a wall mount friendly form factor. The remote control provides basic navigation, volume control and voice commands via Google Assistant.
9to5Google first reported the existence of “Sabrina” and said it would be “a second generation Chromecast Ultra” that comes with a remote control and runs Android TV. The Chromecast “Ultra” is the version of a Chromecast with 4K compatibility and currently costs $ 69. A report from the protocol says that Sabrina will cost “about or under $ 80.”
Google probably has to come down on that price if it wants to be competitive with the rest of the streaming landscape. Amazon’s 4K Fire Stick (which also runs Android and comes with a remote control) is $ 50. Roku, the industry leader, has a 4K remote with $ 40 remote control. Google may say that a big differentiator is that a handful of $ 60, AAA video games will run on Sabrina thanks to Google Stadia support, but Stadia is not doing well.
The leak also shows some screenshots of the software, which looks very different from the current version of Android TV. This new build mixes content from multiple apps and breaks down the walled garden that is usually found around each service. Screenshots (and a video) of the new home screen interface show a full-screen preview Game of Thrones on HBO Max, to Our planet on Netflix, to Black widow at Disney Plus.
A “live” episode of UI was heavily integrated with YouTube TV, complete with a TV guide UI. The new Android TV also supports Nest cameras and has a full-screen interface for Google Assistant results.
Is this the beginning of the end for Chromecast?
It looks like we’re entering a period of renewed interest in Google’s Android TV. The company’s last consumer Android TV device was the first Android TV device, the Nexus Player, released all the way back in 2014. Since it was shut down from updates in 2018, there has been no enhanced hardware for Android TV. Google has released three “ADT” developers for developers, including a dongle form factor, but they lacked DRM compatibility to play Netflix and other critical media apps.
Google’s lack of interest in Android TV hardware seems to be due to the success of Chromecast, a competing $ 35 dongle from Google that didn’t have its own UI or control system at all. When Chromecast was released in 2013, it was designed to be as cheap as possible, giving users an easy way to get YouTube, Google Music and other services on their TV. As early as 2013, the Chromecast’s lack of a standalone user interface and remote control was part of this “as cheap as possible” philosophy, hence the split between Android TV and Chromecast. Chromecast was cheap and $ 35; Android TV was more of a $ 100 premium experience.
Today, however, the falling price of technology means a split like this is not really necessary. As we said before, Amazon’s Fire TV stick – which also runs Android in a dongle form factor and comes with a remote control – is $ 35 for the HD version and $ 50 for the 4K version. Google basically builds the same product. If Google makes an HD version of Sabrina and releases it at a competitive price, there’s really no room for a standalone Chromecast device anymore. There really wouldn’t be room for the $ 35 price tag – would Google want to sell a Chromecast for less than that? If not – and if Google has any meaning at all (a debatable topic) – we might be looking at the beginning of the end of the Chromecast line.
In terms of software, Android TV and Chromecast have already merged. Every Android TV device is also a Chromecast receiver – the casting experience cannot be separated from that of a Chromecast unless you want to download a remote control. This means that there is no “easy-to-use” advantage with Chromecast over Android TV. Android TV is a pure upgrade, with price being the only justification for existing Chromecast. But Amazon has proven that the price difference is no longer necessary.
At the moment, rumors point to only a 4K version, which does not attack Chromecast’s $ 35 price point. The rumors also point to Google having a higher price than all its competitors, perhaps as an artificial protection for Chromecast. Chromecast has been popular in the past, but as the protocol points out in its report, Chromecast is losing market share to its more capable competitors. Chromecast was a big device at startup level when Internet TV was an addition to cable, but because cord cutting is the norm, people want a more capable device at a low price. The other problem is that every TV has some kind of smart feature now, so Google also competes with embedded systems.
Welcome back to Google TV?
Now would be a good time for a merger, as rumors point to a comprehensive Android TV. 9to5Google says Android TV will be renamed – get this— “Google TV.”
The name “Google TV” was already used by Google all the way back as the company’s original TV product, but now it apparently comes back. In the early days of smart TVs, Google TVs were real clunkers that came with full QWERTY keyboards, based on Android 2.x and came with the headline introduction of Chrome and Adobe Flash, which was a requirement for watching web video on time. In 2014, Google understandably scrapped the Google TV code base and started with Android TV.
Restoring the name “Google TV” would be somewhat in line with Google’s previous reclassification efforts. We have seen the company pull the Android brand away from anything that is not a phone. Android Market became Google Play, “Android Pay” has become “Google Pay”, “Android Wear” has become “Wear OS” and “Android Announcements” have become “Announcements from Google.” Google’s brand is not always meaningful, but it seems to limit the “Android” brand to a phone operating system, and anything that runs on the Web or that also works with an iPhone is renamed “Google” somewhat. The Android brand was updated in 2019 with a new logo, so it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It just seems to have been relegated to “Google’s phone operating system.”
As for the hardware, Protocol says that the device will use the “Nest” trademark, so it will probably be called something like “Google Nest TV” running the Google TV software. The report also says Google was targeting a summer release but warns that COVID-19 problems could delay things.
Listing image of XDA Developers